The Golan Heights
“Shalom shalom! Wakey wakey!” For our second day in the Galilee region, we visited four places in the mountains, climbing to new heights and experiencing new perspectives. At the field site of Katzrin, we dressed in traditional clothing of the people who would have lived there and walked through this village that was set up to look like how it would actually look. We took shelter from the drizzling rain in a rabbi’s house, built of stone with thick walls for insulation. Here we read Mark 2:1-12, the account of the paralytic man whom the four friends had brought to Jesus by digging a hole in the roof. Being in a house with sticks for a roof, and considering that mud and leaves was an option for people living in the drier regions of Israel, it was easy to picture being in a tightly packed room and watching clumps of mud falling as the friends would dig.
The ancient Jewish farming village of Katzrin was built around a spring, which still flows. Although there were standing ruins on the site, archaeological excavations have increased the number of accessible ancient buildings. An ancient synagogue was discovered in 1967 and excavated between 1971 and 1984. Other parts of the village were excavated beginning in 1983. Some of the buildings have been reconstructed on their ancient foundations and furnished with replicas of household goods and tools
After returning to the year 2018 in our modern day clothing, we climbed higher to the top of Mount Bental on the Syrian border where a stunning view of fog awaited us. Ronen assured us that on a clear day, you could see over the land of Syria from such a magnificent height. Passing the quaint coffee shop to return to later, we descended into the Israeli bunker and huddled in one of the small rooms, attentive to Ronen’s account of the different wars Israel experienced. One particular story took place on Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday on which no one used the radio. One man took a tank and a few men and went to fight, only to discover that every time he used his radio the Syrian army could hear him and go to attack him. He used this to fool the enemy into attacking themselves, pretending to command several tanks to different areas. The Syrians would then go to those areas to attack, circling each other. This man was awarded a high honor in Israel.
Mount Bental is one of Israel’s favourite mountain peaks to visit, partly due to the great panoramic views of the Golan and even Syria but also because Mount Bental was the site of a courageous battle fought during Israel’s war for the Golan. A short drive up, the mountain-top provides both scenic beauty and a glimpse back at the past – with bunkers open to visitors.
With this story on our minds, we warmed ourselves in Coffee Anon before heading down the mountain to Caesarea Philippi. In the rain, Leah Richter informed us about Caesarea Philippi, the largest spring feeding the Jordan River located 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. She read Mark 8:27-9:1, the story when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Caesarea Philippi, we learned, is an odd place to take your disciples, since it could be acquainted with this century’s Las Vegas. The temple for the nature god Pan was here and was an evil place where people sacrificed, even their own babies, for rain by throwing their sacrifice into the water pool in the temple and if there was blood then it was accepted. From the comparison to Las Vegas, you can guess the other things that took place here during festivals. So we were challenged with the question, “Why would Jesus take His disciples here?” It made a statement. Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed One, the One true God. I felt contempt as I observed the temple for Pan, disgusted by what took place and yet in awe with our God that Jesus would choose here to say that He is the Messiah.
This abundant water supply has made the area very fertile and attractive for religious worship. Numerous temples were built at this city in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.
After lunch, we hiked through Dan, formerly known as Laish before the Danites conquered the land, a land that was much farther north than where they were supposed to conquer. A corrupted priest, two generations after Moses, approved of these actions, conquering Laish instead of the land God gave for them to conquer and inherit. A corrupted king, two generations after David, built golden calves for his people to worship to keep them from leaving his kingdom to go to Jerusalem three times a year. Thus, Ronen challenged us, “What legacy are we leaving for the next generation?” Hiking in the rain, sloshing in the mud, we considered how the people would travel in this wet weather without the luxuries we have today, like umbrellas and warm raincoats. On the long drive back to the kibbutz, Ronen taught us different Hebrew slang gestures and phrases as well as a new song in Hebrew, which we practiced close to a dozen times. Tomorrow we will be transitioning to the Judea mountains and Jerusalem and expecting more rain, and we couldn’t be more excited.
On the northern frontier of the kingdom, Dan was particularly well fortified. This gatehouse was built in the ninth century, probably by Ahab, and is part of a series of gateways discovered.